Silent House ✮1/2
by Glenn Lovell
As Old Dark Houses go, the isolated lakeside abode in “Silent House” is, well, pretty darn dark. Navigating the corridors is like picking your way through the innards of a sunken freighter. There’s a lot of squinting involved.
It might help if the occupants pulled the curtains, cracked a window, to air out the place. But that would make sense. And little about the folks inhabiting this derivative fright show makes sense. Which is why it’s more trying than terrifying.
When things begin to go bumpity-bump inside the house, what does the heroine do? Lock the front door, of course. What do you bet that she’ll soon be scurrying to let herself out.
Adapted from a marginally spookier South American import, “Silent House” — co-directed by the husband-and-wife team behind “Open Water” — stars Elizabeth Olsen (“Martha Macy May Marlene”) as the suspiciously fragile Sarah and Adam Trese as her suspiciously palsy-walsy father. They’re at the summer house for last-minute repairs before putting it on the market. This is supposed to explain why there’s no electricity or phone service. Cell phones? Too remote. “They don’t work up here.” Ahh, right.
Sarah and her dad are soon joined by Uncle Peter (Eric Shaffer Stevens). He’s a tad less odd than the other two. Good thing. Before long, Sarah divines they’re not alone, that she’s being pursued by an intruder. Sobbing uncontrollably, she hides in plain sight, ducking under assorted pieces of furniture. Could her ordeal have something to do with those faded Polaroids that Dad and Uncle Peter nervously downplay as they squirrel them away? Fans of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” will throw up their hands right around here.
If you’re reading this review, it’s probably because you bought into the sales pitch about this indie being different because it was shot in one continuous, 85-minute take and, therefore, appears to unfold in real time. Hence, the Steadicam that shadows Sarah throughout, chasing her up and down stairs, along murky corridors and, inevitably, into the basement.
A new gimmick? Of course not. Hitchcock was toying with continuous takes back in 1948 (see “Rope”). Ten years ago, Aleksandr Sokurov perfected the technique with the masterful “Russian Ark.” As for experiments in real time, they go back to 1949 and Robert Wise’s boxing melodrama “The Set-Up.” For “Timecode,” released in 2000, Mike Figgis added his split-screen wrinkle. This new variation ‒ long takes digitally fused at strategic moments ‒ sure looks slick. But instead of adding to the mounting terror, the nosy camera only manages to call attention to itself and make Olsen’s annoying Tonya Harding crying jags all the more annoying.
SILENT HOUSE ✮1/2 With Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Shaffer Stevens. Directed by Chris Kentis, Laura Lau; scripted by Lau adapted from Gustavo Hernández screenplay. 85 min. Rated R (for profanity, violence, adult subject matter).